Tag Archives: sidney lumet

Serpico – Review

21 Oct

There are certain movies that I’m really surprised I haven’t seen yet. These aren’t movies that stay under the radar or anything, but movies that are well known and loved by audiences. Some of them are even considered classics. What can I say? Nobody’s perfect. I just got around to seeing one of these films that I’d list in these “movies I should have seen already” categories. That film is the 1973 classic by Sidney Lumet, Serpico. I can’t even say I knew what the film was really about. All I knew was that this movie helped form Al Pacino’s career, which is kind of a big deal if I say so myself. After seeing Serpico, I have to say that I didn’t love it. I liked it and it’s certainly a movie I’m not going to forget, but it had major issues that rubbed me the wrong way. Let’s get right into it.

All his life, Frank Serpico (Al Pacino) has wanted to be a police officer. When that day finally comes around, it’s a dream come true. Starting out as just a uniformed officer walking the beat, he begins to see signs that life on the force may not be what he expected, especially after seeing a suspect get roughed up in an interrogation room. As time goes on and he begins to adjust, he is bumped up to a plainclothes officer working more dangerous and criminal cases. What he sees is corruption on a massive scale with his coworkers shaking down drug dealers, pimps, and other criminals. Serpico looks everywhere for help, even going so far as to bring his grievances to the mayor. When no one is able to help, the biggest danger for Serpico isn’t the criminals he busts on a day to day basis, but his fellow police officers who feel he can’t be trusted.

Many people consider this movie a classic, and I believe that because of its impact on the genre. You won’t see any argument from me because my complaints are pretty minor in the grand scheme of things. I want to get the positives out of the way first because they truly do outweigh the negatives. This was a very early film in Al Pacino’s long and praised career, and if it wasn’t for Serpico, he may not have made it as big as he did. Let’s not forget that he was Michael Corleone in The Godfather movies, but this was just another notch in making his career. Pacino is excellent as Serpico. After having spent a lot of time with the real guy, it’s no surprise that he has his voice completely altered and a lot of these mannerisms you don’t really see in other roles that he’s done. This is a complete transformation and a performance that really helped define the times in terms of acting with it being the early 1970s, one of the largest times of change in film since sound was first introduced.

The story of Serpico is also incredibly engaging. As the narrative moves forward and Frank’s plight becomes more dire, I actually felt myself getting stressed out. It’s not terribly hard for a movie to have me guessing as to what’s going to happen or feeling some sort of suspense, but this movie made me physically feel stressed. Everywhere Serpico turns, he’s met with a brick wall, and we see that over the span of over two hours. Pacino’s performance and the writing really brings this character to life onscreen, so we as an audience truly want to see him succeed and finally be able to live the life that he’s wanted. Sidney Lumet is a very talented director who is able to turn characters’ environments into characters themselves. Just think of that one room in 12 Angry Men. What Lumet does for New York City in Serpico is something on a whole new scale. Having filmed this movie in mostly all of the boroughs of New York City, I saw different aspects of life clash and combine making the city live and breathe. It’s essential to this film’s story and Lumet pulled it off flawlessly.

Speaking of flawless, this movie as a whole is not. As I was watching the story play out, I could tell that time was passing. Serpico’s apartment changed furniture, his different friends come and go, and his hair, beard, and clothes change. I figured this was probably a 3 year period. Boy, was I wrong. Serpico‘s story starts in 1960 and spans to 1971! WHAT?! I never got the sense that that was how much time was passing until after the movie was over and I was doing some research on it. If I had known how long all of this was going on, that would’ve added a whole new layer of dread to the stress I was already feeling for our hero. That being said, how smooth can you turn 11 years into a 2 hour movie? There are elements to Serpico’s life that do feel glazed over, forgotten, or rushed in favor of other interests. This kind of muddles the overall story for me, and I can’t help thinking this may have been better as a miniseries on HBO.

Serpico is a very good movie that is full of great elements that is ultimately bogged down by an overabundance of information. Al Pacino’s performance is outstanding and the overall emotional and physical response this film got from me says a lot about the story. Sidney Lumet also films New York City perfectly which brought a whole new sense of realism to the crime drama film. I just wish the story was told a bit more cohesively and smoothly, but instead I felt like I was jumping all over the place without knowing exactly where I landed. Still, Serpico has earned its right to be called a classic, and I’m not going to dispute that.

Final Grade: B+

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Find Me Guilty – Review

9 Jun

Between the years of 1986 and 1988, the largest mafia indictment and trial occurred with 20 defendants, who were all members of the Lucchese crime family, in the hot seat. One of these defendants was a low level gangster named Frankie DiNorscio, who was already facing 30 years and decided the best thing he could do is defend himself during this enormous trial. Needless to say, it was a circus and this brings us to Find Me Guilty, one of the great Sidney Lumet’s last films. I can honestly say that I’ve never heard anyone talk about this movie… like ever. I find this weird since it is a very entertaining court room film, but also features, far and away, Vin Diesel’s best performance.

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After almost being killed by his cousin and then arrested during a huge drug bust, Jackie DiNorscio (Vin Diesel) is looking down the barrel of 30 long years in prison. As if his luck hasn’t been bad enough recently, DiNorscio is then included in a massive indictment, led by district attorney Sean Kierney (Linus Roache), of over 20 members of the Lucchese crime family, including the boss, Nick Calabrese (Alex Rocco). Much to the chagrin of the lead defense attorney Ben Klandis (Peter Dinklage), Jackie decides it would be in his best interest to defend himself in the case. As days turn to months, Jackie stands up for himself throughout the trial and causes all sorts of havoc in the courtroom, but he also is forced to use this trial as a reflection on how he’s lived his life up until this point, affected the people he’s surrounded by, and what the family really thinks of him.

I love me a good courtroom drama, and it’s disappointing that there aren’t really a lot of them being made as of recent. I may be just missing them, but I can’t think of one that really stands out in recent years. While I love the drama of a trial, movies like My Cousin Vinny and even A Few Good Men have shown that there can still be plenty of humor in a story like this. This is something that makes Find Me Guilty really stand out for me. Not only was I intrigued by the human drama and criminal element, DiNorscio’s antics and people’s responses made for some really funny scenes. Make no mistake, though. The third of this movie hit me where it hurts. The combination of Jackie sticking up for himself in court and also coming to terms with his place in the crime family and his own family makes for some really deep scenes. I can’t say it reaches the intensity of Lumet’s classic 12 Angry Men, but it certainly is affective.

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The main reason I decided to give this movie a watch is the chance to see Vin Diesel in a dramatic role. Diesel is best known for his action roles in the Fast and the Furious series and XXX. He’s recently stepped into the super hero territory as Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy, but repeating the line “I am Groot” doesn’t really constitute as an acting showcase. Find Me Guilty has given me a new level of respect for Mr. Diesel. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Diesel actually completely embodies the role of Jackie DiNorscio to the point where I believe I’m no longer watching an actor, but footage from the actual trials. Of course I realize it’s a movie, but I really buy every line and action Diesel does, and saying I’m impressed is a bit of an understatement. We also have Peter Dinklage in a supporting role as a defense attorney that befriends DiNorscio. Dinklage also does a great job here, but that’s not really a surprise. This really is Vin Diesel’s show.

I want to get back to the point I made before about how part of this movie is about Jackie looking back at the things he’s done and said, and how the trial is the catalyst for all this soul searching he does. This is not the first time Lumet has done this with a court room scenario. Just look at 12 Angry Men. While it is a movie about a group of jurors deciding the fate of a young man, it’s also a movie about racism and bigotry and how they affect judicial proceedings. Find Me Guilty is also deeper than the intriguing scenes in the court room. It’s a movie about coming to terms with who you are and finding ways to better yourself before it’s too late. Movies with depth are certainly a plus, and Find Me Guilty succeeds very well at exploring its deeper thematic material.

I really can’t understand why no one ever seems to talk about this movie. It may not be Lumet’s crowning achievement, but it really is a damn good movie. Vin Diesel absolutely kills it as what may be one of the most sympathetic gangsters to grace the silver screen, and it makes me wish that he would take more jobs like this. It also helps that the dialogue is based off of actual courtroom testimony of the most absurd case the mafia has ever faced, while also exploring some deeper thematic elements. I liked Find Me Guilty quite a bit and can easily recommend it.